Teesdale, Christopher Charles (DNB00)

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TEESDALE, Sir CHRISTOPHER CHARLES (1833–1893), major-general, royal artillery, son of Lieutenant-general Henry George Teesdale of South Bersted, Sussex, was born at the Cape of Good Hope on 1 June 1833. He entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich in May 1848, and received a commission as second lieutenant in the royal artillery on 18 June 1851. He went to Corfu in 1852, was promoted to be first lieutenant on 22 April 1853, and in the following year was appointed aide-de-camp to Colonel (afterwards General Sir) William Fenwick Williams [q.v.], British commissioner with the Turkish army in Asia Minor during the war with Russia.

Teesdale, with Dr. Humphry Sandwith [q. v.], another member of the British commissioner's staff, accompanied Williams to Erzeroum, and thence to Kars, where they arrived on 24 Sept. 1854. Williams returned to the headquarters of the Turkish army at Erzeroum, leaving Teesdale at Kars to establish what discipline and order he could. During the whole winter Teesdale, aided by his interpreter, Mr. Zohrab, worked incessantly to secure the well-being of the troops in Kars. Sandwith says he exhibited such a rare combination of firmness and conciliatory tact that he won all hearts, and the grey-bearded old general, Kherim Pasha, never ventured on any act of importance without first consulting this young subaltern of artillery. Colonel (afterwards Sir) Henry Atwell Lake [q.v.] and Captain Henry Langhorne Thompson [q. v.] having arrived at Kars in March 1855, Teesdale returned to Erzeroum and rejoined his chief, who, in January, had been made a lieutenant-general, or ferik, in the Turkish army, and a pasha. At the same time Teesdale had been made a major in the Turkish army. In a letter from the foreign office dated 7 March 1855, her majesty's government approved of Teesdale's efforts in averting from the garrison of Kars the horrors that they suffered from famine in the previous winter. After the thawing of the snow Teesdale was daily engaged with Williams from early morning to sunset in fortifying all the heights around Erzeroum.

On 1 June 1855 a courier from Lake informed Williams of the formidable Russian army assembled at Gumri, and the indication of a speedy advance upon Kars. On the following day Teesdale started with Williams and Sandwith for Kars, arriving there on 7 June. On the 9th Teesdale, with Zohrab his interpreter, went to his post at the Tahmasp batteries, and on the 12th he made a reconnaissance of the Russian camp. On the 16th the Russians, twenty-five thousand strong, attacked early in the morning, but were repulsed by the artillery fire of the fortress. Williams, in his despatch, records his thanks to Teesdale, ‘ whose labours were incessant.’ Two days later the Russians established a blockade of Kars, and shortly afterwards intercepted communication with Erzeroum. The garrison of Kars was continually occupied in skirmishes with the enemy, and in the task of strengthening the fortifications. On 7 Aug. an attack was made by the Russians, who were again beaten off.

Teesdale lived in Tahmasp Tabia with that gallant Hungarian and first-rate soldier, General Kmety, for whom he had a great admiration. He acted as chief of his staff, and, besides his graver duties, was constantly engaged in harassing the Cossacks with parties of riflemen, or in menacing and attacking the Russian cavalry with a company of rifles and a couple of guns.

Early in September the weather grew suddenly cold, and snow fell. Provisions were scarce, and desertions became frequent. Late in the month cholera appeared. At 4 A.M. on 29 Sept. the Russian general Mouravieff, with the bulk of his army, attacked the heights above Kars and on the opposite side of the river. At Tahmasp the advance was distinctly heard and preparations made to meet it. The guns were quietly charged with grape. Teesdale, returning from his rounds, flung himself into the most exposed battery in the redoubt, Yuksek Tabia, the key of the position. The Russians advanced with their usual steadiness in three close columns, supported by twenty-four guns, and hoped under cover of the mist and in the dim light of dawn to effect a surprise; but they were received with a crushing artillery fire of grape. Undaunted, the Russian infantry cheered and rushed up the hill to the breastworks, and, in spite of a murderous fire of musketry, drove out the Turks and advanced to the rear of the redoubts of Tahmasp and Yuksek Tabia, where desperate fighting took place. Teesdale turned some of his guns to the rear and worked them vigorously. The redoubts being closed in rear and flanking one another, the artillery and musketry fire from them made havoc in the ranks of the assailants. Nevertheless the Russians precipitated themselves upon the works, and some even effected an entrance. Three were killed ‘ on the platform of a gun which at that moment was being worked by Teesdale, who then sprang out and led two charges with the bayonet, the Turks fighting like heroes ’ (Letter from General Williams, 30 Sept. 1855). During the hottest part of the action, when the enemy's fire had driven the Turkish artillerymen from their guns, Teesdale rallied his gunners, and by his intrepid example induced them to return to their posts. After having led the final charge which completed the victory of the day, Teesdale, at great personal risk, saved from the fury of his Turks a considerable number of the disabled among the enemy, who were lying wounded outside the works. This was witnessed and gratefully acknowledged before the Russian staff by General Mouravieff (London Gazette, 25 Sept. 1857). The battle of Kars lasted seven and a half hours. Near midday, however, the Russians were driven off in great disorder, and fled down the heights under a heavy musketry fire. Their loss was over six thousand killed and about as many wounded.

Teesdale, who was hit by a piece of spent shell and received a severe contusion, was most favourably mentioned in despatches. On 12 Oct. General Williams wrote : ‘ My aide-de-camp, Teesdale, had charge of the central redoubt and fought like a lion.’ After the battle the mushir, on behalf of the sultan, decorated Teesdale with the third class of the order of the Medjidie, and promoted him to be a lieutenant-colonel in the Turkish army (Despatch from General Williams to Lord Clarendon, 31 Oct. 1855).

Cholera and famine assumed serious proportions in October, and, although the former ceased in November, severe cold added to the sufferings of the garrison, and every night a number of desertions took place. On 22 Oct. news had arrived of a relieving army of twenty thousand men under Selim Pasha, and in the middle of November it was daily expected from Erzeroum, where it had arrived at the beginning of the month. But Selim had no intention of advancing. On 24 Nov. it was considered impossible to hold out any longer, and, there being no hope of relief, Teesdale was sent with a flag of truce to the Russian camp to arrange for a meeting of the generals and to discuss terms of capitulation ; these were arranged the following day, and on the 28th the garrison laid down its arms, and Teesdale and the other English officers became prisoners of war.

The English officers were most hospitably treated by the Russians, and started on 30 Nov. for Tiflis, which they reached on 8 Dec. In January 1856 Teesdale accompanied General Williams to Riazan, about 180 miles from Moscow. After having been presented to the czar in March, they were given their liberty and proceeded to England.

Teesdale was made a C.B. on 21 June 1856, though still a lieutenant of royal artillery. He was also made an officer of the Legion of Honour, received the medal for Kars, and on 25 Sept. 1857 was awarded the Victoria Cross for acts of bravery at the battle of 29 Sept. 1855.

From 1856 to 1859 Teesdale continued to serve as aide-de-camp to Fenwick-Williams, who had been appointed commandant of the Woolwich district. On 1 Jan. 1858 he was promoted to be second captain in the royal artillery, and on the 15th of the same month to be brevet major in the army for distinguished service in the field. On 9 Nov. 1858 he was appointed equerry to the Prince of Wales, a position which he held for thirty-two years. From 1859 to 1864 he was again aide-de-camp to Fenwick-Williams during his term of office as inspector-general of artillery at headquarters in London. Teesdale was promoted to be first captain in the royal artillery on 3 Feb. 1866, brevet lieutenant-colonel on 14 Dec. 1868, major royal artillery on 5 July 1872, and lieutenant-colonel in his regiment on 23 Sept. 1875. He was appointed aide-de-camp to the queen and promoted to be colonel in the army on 1 Oct. 1877, regimental colonel on 1 Oct. 1882, and major-general on 22 April 1887. On 8 July 1887, on the occasion of the queen's jubilee, he was made a knight commander of St. Michael and St. George.

In 1890 Teesdale resigned the appointment of equerry to the Prince of Wales, and was appointed master of the ceremonies and extra equerry to the prince, positions which he held until his death. He retired from the army active list with a pension on 22 April 1892. He died, unmarried, on 1 Nov. 1893 at his residence, The Ark, South Bersted, Sussex, from a paralytic stroke, a few days after his return from a small estate he had in Germany. He was buried on 4 Nov. in South Bersted churchyard. He wrote a slight sketch of the services of Sir W. F. Williams for the ‘Proceedings’ of the Royal Artillery Institution (vol. xii. pt. ix.)

[War Office Records ; Despatches ; Royal Artillery Records; Times (London), 2 and 6 Nov. 1893; United Service Mag. 1855 and 1857; Gent. Mag. 1856 and 1858; Lake's Kars and our Captivity in Russia, 1856; Sandwith's Narrative of the Siege of Kars, 1856 ; A Campaign with the Turks in Asia, by Charles Duncan, vols. 1856.]

R. H. V.